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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January-February 2009, page 60

Waging Peace

HCEF’s 10th International Conference

  • (L-r) Rateb Rabie, HCEF president, Patriarch Michel Sabbah, author of Faithful Witness: On Reconciliation and Peace in the Holy Land, and Dr. Samir Abu-Ghazaleh at HCEF’s Oct. 24 Awards Banquet at the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda, MD (Photo M. Keating).

TWO LEADING theologians spoke about one of the greatest threats to peace in the Middle East, Christian Zionism, at the 10th International Conference of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), held Oct. 24 and 25 at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The American Christian Zionist movement is led by Texas-based Pastor John Hagee under the banner, “Christians United for Israel,” an organization with thousands of neoconservative Evangelical followers. An apocalyptic visionary and Biblical literalist, some call Hagee the most dangerous man in the Middle East. His influence on U.S. foreign policy toward Israel and Palestine is undeniable. Rev. Dr. Donald Wagner of North Park University and Rev. Dr. Stan Moody of the Christian Policy Institute addressed this growing phenomenon and described how Israel uses Zionist Evangelicals to gain support for its occupation of Palestinian territory.

Other speakers and workshops addressed challenges facing Christians and other Palestinians in the Holy Land who face political and economic hardship. His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem, discussed peacemaking, peace building and reconciliation. In a workshop titled, “Sustaining Economic Viability through Holy Land Support Programs: Economic Development and Holy Land Support Programs,” William Corcoran, president of American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), his ANERA colleague Philip Davies, and Raed Saadeh, general manager of the Jerusalem Hotel, tackled the subject of business development programs.

ANERA, the largest American NGO operating in the West Bank and Gaza, works hard to encourage economic growth in Palestine. In addition to working to develop Palestine’s economy by focusing on education and developing infrastructure, ANERA also cooperates with the Palestinian Authority on the Palestine Education Initiative, which will assist Palestinians in making the leap into certain industries, such as software and IT. And by sponsoring the construction of roads, industrial centers, warehouses, and adequate water and sanitation services for businesses, ANERA is developing the infrastructure that Palestine desperately needs.

Corcoran listed the World Bank’s qualifications for a healthy economic climate, which include freedom of movement of labor, raw materials, and a finished product for export; a low-risk environment; and potential for partnerships. Palestine has difficulty meeting all three of these conditions, Corcoran noted.

Workers, goods and finished products often face great difficulty moving within the West Bank and into Israel and other markets. Potential investors are “risk adverse,” meaning that politically unstable Palestine, which lacks the infrastructure to protect capital and assets, is not an attractive place to invest. International businesses are waiting for peace before they invest.

Local initiatives, especially in the tourism industry, should emphasize Palestine’s 5,000-year history, not just the past 70 years, Saadeh noted. He raised some concerns, particularly that adequate water and waste treatment facilities may not yet exist, in addition to adequate roads and other tourist services. Nevertheless, Saadeh was optimistic about the future of tourism revenue. And while locally run businesses such as the Taybeh Beer Company face great difficulties trying to import materials and export finished products to outside markets, it can be done—particularly with the help of international organizations such as ANERA, and local businessmen such as Saadeh, who are working to develop targeted, effective, competitive strategies for Palestinian businesses.

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Zachary Wales and Delinda Hanley